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How to save money in Vietnam

The official currency in Vietnam is Vietnamese Dong although US Dollars are widely accepted and some places will give prices in Dollars rather than Dong.

Given that the cost of living is much lower in Vietnam than in the West, it is usually possible for foreigners to live well and still manage to save money for their eventual return home. However, if you are on a strict budget while working in Vietnam, there are some ways to save money.

Shared housing is a good way to reduce accommodation costs. Many TEFL employers will arrange their employees a room in a shared house with other teachers. This ensures not only lower expenses, but also company with other expatriates who will either be able to give you tips on living in Vietnam, or who will be a source of comfort while you learn together.

Telecommunications in Vietnam are great in the city but can be unreliable in other areas. Foreigners can get a good deal on a mobile phone SIM but they will need paperwork to prove their identity, work, and residency status and probably someone to translate and help them through the process. A call card can also help to save money. Internet access is good and another cheap way to keep in contact is by online services such as Skype, available either at an internet café in tourist areas or with a contract at home.

Labour is much cheaper in Vietnam than in the West. For many people, living in a country such as Vietnam is the first time they can afford domestic help such as live-in maids, security staff, and drivers. Many people also use a laundry service. However, these are obviously not necessary for everyone and you can save money by not having paid help.

However, one benefit of having Vietnamese staff working for you is that they are more experienced at bartering and will have the time to spend on finding you the best deals.  Bargaining is a way of life in Vietnam, and is expected at roadside stalls and traditional markets, in fact anywhere there are no price tags (but not at shopping malls). It is a skill that may take some time to learn but don’t be afraid to give it a try. Also, as a foreigner it is likely that you will end up being charged more than your Vietnamese counterparts — it is best to accept an element of this as inevitable. If you don’t want to bargain you can shop at fixed price stores — local shops may well be cheaper than the big supermarkets.

Tips for bargaining

  • First ask the price, then ask if the price can be reduced.
  • If the answer is yes, then offer one-quarter to one-half of the asking price.
  • After some counteroffers, you and the vendor will agree on a price that is about half to two-thirds of the original asking price — you are then obliged to purchase.
  • If you really like something, don’t show it.
  • You can leave if you think the final offer is too high.
  • But don’t open negotiations if you really don’t intend to buy.
  • If you are going to shop there frequently, your relationship with the vendor will be important and eventually his opening prices will be lower.
  • Be patient and keep your sense of humour.

Part of your reason for moving to Vietnam is to explore the many and varied aspects of the country. You will want to travel to different parts of the country while you are there. Tourist attractions are not unduly expensive, but if you time your trips for during the rainy season they will be cheaper — but wetter.

The economy in Vietnam is generally a cash-based one, but there are a number of large multinational banks in the country and many expats choose to bank with HSBC or ANZ. If you are looking for a Vietnamese bank, Vietcombank is a popular option. ATMs are readily available in cities and most banks will have an English speaker on their staff. Foreigners need their passport, proof of employment, and address in order to open an account and there is the option to bank in US Dollars or Vietnamese Dong.

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